Sony invited me into its Tokyo HQ to give CNET UK a sneak preview of the new features that will be making their way onto its 2012 line-up of TVs, and they look pretty nifty to me.
One of the problems with the menus used on last year's models was that they didn't make it particularly easy to access apps and Internet video services. The new interface improves things massively in this area.
On the remote controls for the 2012 models will be a dedicated button marked 'SEN' that zaps you directly to a new Sony Entertainment Network screen. Here, you'll find all the apps and online services presented in a tile interface, which doesn't look too dissimilar to the Windows 8 Metro interface.
The left-hand side of the screen shows a video thumbnail of the current TV channel that you're watching. Beneath this is a box that can be configured to display the time and date, or alternatively, the latest tweets from the people you follow on Twitter.
All your on-demand video services and Internet apps are now listed under the apps tile. The tiles for videos and music show the latest and most popular releases on Sony's own Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited rental and subscription services.
There's also now a favourites tile, where you can add in the services or apps that you access most often, to get at them faster.
Sony is giving the humble electronic programme guide (EPG) a makeover too. The new models will actually offer two EPGs -- the standard Freeview HD one and a secondary guide that you can use if you've got your set hooked up to the web.
This new web-enabled guide uses rich meta-data drawn from the Gracenote online database, which Sony now owns. As a result, along with the usual programme summary, you can also view information on cast and crew members and see other related shows coming up, such as different episodes in a TV series. The blocks in the EPG are colour-coded to distinguish genres of programmes, such as movies and sports.
Twitter and Facebook
As with the 2011 models, the new sets will have Twitter and Facebook widgets. They allow you to view tweets and status updates in a panel to the right of the video window of the TV show you're currently watching. Alternatively, you can switch to the ticker mode that displays them as a feed across the bottom of the screen.
Sony is updating its MusicID service, which identifies tracks that you hear on TV shows, movies or adverts via a button on the remote. Now, once the TV has uploaded a snippet of the track to the net and found the relevant artist and song title, you can post the result directly to your Twitter feed.
No MKV support
It's not all good news. Unfortunately, Sony says that the new interface features will only be available on the 2012 TVs, so older models won't be getting a software update to the new-look menus. Also, the company won't be adding support for the Matroska (MKV) video format to its 2012 line-up -- a shortcoming I complained about when reviewing the 2011 models.
The tile-based interface is not a million miles away from Windows 8 in appearance.
The new favourites feature lets you get to the services you access most often, quickly.
If you're hooked up to the web, the TV will automatically search for cast and crew info.
There are two EPGs -- the standard Freeview HD EPG and a new web-connected one.